Monday, November 21, 2011
Saturday Nov 19, 2011
Beyond pledging “support” for
Israel, and pledging to end the Iranian bomb project by force, the Republican aspirants to replace Obama avoided discussing the Middle East. Not a particularly strong suit for the Democrat. Why the hesitation?
In his 13 November column on Jerusalem Post Shmuel Rosner observed that, minus a few desultory comments the Republican contenders for their party’s nomination paid almost no attention to the region in their recent “foreign policy” debate. On the surface this might be surprising considering the vulnerability of the president in this area, at least among the Jewish community. So how explain the avoidance of the issue by the Republicans who, by tradition, consider themselves the party of an activist foreign policy? Perhaps the reason is less to be found in the vulnerability of the Democrat incumbent than in the record of his predecessor George W. Bush.
The Oval Office, Wikipedia
On 20 March, 2003, Bush committed the full power of the
United military to the invasion of States . Whatever motivated the invasion, whether "oil" or those absent weapons of mass destruction (WMD), whether it was his desire to promote “democracy” in the Arab world as he later claimed; whatever History eventually defines as the actual motive what Bush did achieve was an “unintended” and unanticipated outcome by fulfilling Iran’s wildest dream. In the 1980’s Iran-Iraq war Iraq Iran suffered more than a million casualties, and failed to defeat . By his invasion Bush transformed Iraq from a barrier to Iranian ambitions across the Gulf to a potential satellite of the Islamic Republic. He replaced Iraq Iraq’s Sunni regime with one dominated by Iraq’s Shi’ites, closely related by religion and culture to ’s neighbor to the east. No longer a barrier, Bush provided the Islamic Republic with a superhighway into the heart of those coveted Saudi oil fields. Iraq
Prior to the invasion
had been an important source of “intelligence” to the Bush administration regarding Iraqi weapons of mass destruction (WMD). Ahmadinejad even provided the White House a paid agent to substantiate the disinformation. Ahmed Chalabi was a close and trusted advisor to Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, the darling of Bush neocons. Iran
Boots on the ground our forces found themselves targeted by Iran-financed, trained and Revolutionary Guards-led insurgents. To date nearly 5,000 troops died, victim to progressively more sophisticated Iranian roadside bombs. That the Iranians were behind the insurgency was known to our generals from the start. But due to, “fears that taking too active a role against Iran and its assets will put U.S. military personnel at risk of Iranian retaliation in Iraq and Afghanistan,” the administration chose to remain silent in word and deed. This policy of appeasement would extend also to
’s nuclear arms program. In effect, Bush encouraged by neglect the development of the Iranian bomb. Iran
But the disaster represented by Bush’s
Middle East foray extends farther than the region itself. Invading Iraq also created threat and uncertainty to Middle East oil resulting in a dramatic rise in the cost of oil. Bush chose to fund the war “off the books: “This was the first time in American history that the government cut taxes as it went to war (the same tax cuts for the wealthy the center of controversy today). The result: a war completely funded by borrowing. debt soared… As a result of two costly wars funded by debt, our fiscal house was in dismal shape even before the financial crisis.” U.S.
On assuming office President Obama asked the chief architects of Bush’s hand’s off
policy to remain on the job. So avoiding the confrontation is at least a bi-partisan policy. But the fact remains that the Republicans are not only in bed with Democrats regarding Iran , but are the actual architects of the policy. That nearly all debaters were on board regarding a new and “tough” Iran policy, implying a change from Obama, Rosner offers the following caution: “As reassuring as this might sound, I should remind the readers that Democratic candidates made similar – and in some cases even more forceful – statements before the 2008 elections. Iran
With this as background it is perhaps more understandable why the Republicans all but avoided discussing the
Middle East. The chaos of the region was initiated by a Republican president. Under Obama things have gotten a lot worse, but it was the Bush who created the conditions for the disaster.
F15I’s refueling, (photo by Reuters) Israel
As regards Israel’s role in this faintness-of-heart US approach to Iran, the last time I was in Israel shop after shop displayed the same tee-shirt inscription, “Don’t worry, America, Israel has your back!” In this instance the United States, beyond administration protests to the opposite, has set Israel up as its patsy, to initiate the attack and take the fall for those consequences our latest SecDef advocate-of-hesitation, Leon Panetta, parroting his predecessor: 1. “it could have a serious impact on U.S. forces in the region,” and; 2. “there are going to be economic consequences to that, that could impact not just on our economy but the world economy.” And if
Israel initiates the attack Israel and not its “ally,’ the American regional hegemon, then Israel, rather than the , will alone face the repercussions of a world sunk even deeper into economic misery. United States
But implicit in these warnings by Panetta/Gates is that somehow, 1. American forces in the region have been relegated to the role of passive reassurance to our friends and allies, not combatants, and; 2. that those “economic consequences,” grown only more severe by administration neglect and the passage of time, outweigh the consequences of a nuclear
and the likelihood of a regional nuclear arms race. And the more states in this unstable region possessing that weapon, the more likely Islamist terrorists will also go nuclear. And while Iran Israel is at the forefront of counter-terrorism, the most likely targets for nuclear terror are Rome, Madrid, London and, yes, . And this is the ultimate, to borrow that over-worn Gates/Mullen dictum, the real “unintended consequence” of New York ’s policy of avoidance initiated by President Bush. America
Topical writings from 2007 on the Bush Administration:
5. Israel’s “special relationship,” Reality or Myth?
Israel’s America Trap, Part 4: Palestinian Statehood?
“The United States has provided both a sense of direction and a mechanism. That, at its best, is what the peace process has been about. At worst, it has been little more than a slogan used to mask the marking of time.” William B. Quandt
The United States has, for decades, been actively involved in an elusive because illusive peace between Israel and the Palestinians. The tenacity of our leaders deserves recognition, but what lies behind their serial failures? Between Israel and the Arabs there have been some notable successes, and the following is a partial chronology adapted from Wikipedia:
Camp David Accords (1978): signed by Egyptian President Anwar El Sadat and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin on September 17, 1978, the Accords produced two agreements. One succeeded in laying the groundwork for Anwar Sadat’s historic appearance before the Israeli Knesset followed by a treaty of peace between the two states. The second accord between the governments was intended to lead to the same result between Israel and the Palestinians. After 33 years that has yet to occur.
“We who have fought against you, the Palestinians, we say to you today, in a loud and a clear voice, enough of blood and tears ... enough!” Yitzhak Rabin (Reuters)
The Oslo Accords (1993) produced the Declaration of Principles on Interim Self-Government Arrangements (DOP), which provided for Arafat returning to the West Bank, the establishment of the Palestinian Authority and self-rule, and made Rabin, Arafat and Peres Nobel laureates. Some sources suggest that with Rabin’s assassination peace, almost achieved, was also victim. But this optimism towards peace neglects both what preceded and followed the assassination, issues that will be discussed below.
A light moment at Camp David: Barak playfully pushes Arafat into the Laurel cabin, 11 July, 2000 (Reuters)
Camp David (2000) was, judged by the purpose of the summit, a failure. Yet it laid out a ground plan for eventual success between willing parties.
According to news reports prior to the summit Yasser Arafat agreed to attend only reluctantly. Although the agreements mediated by President Clinton were described as the most both sides could realistically expect, Arafat walked away saying, according to a Saudi journalist, that to sign would result in his assassination.
It is notable, and a lesson to would be “intermediaries,” that in the end the only two successful treaties, those between Egypt (1979) and Israel and Jordan and Israel (1994) resulted from direct and secret negotiations between the principles. In both cases, according to reports, discussions were kept secret even from the Americans. The Sadat visit, for example, resulted from Egyptian and Israeli emissaries meeting secretly in Morocco to avoid President Carter’s insistence on a Geneva Conference targeting a comprehensive regional peace which Sadat and Begin both knew would end in failure (Eisenberg and Caplan, Negotiating Arab-Israeli Peace, p. 42).
Basic Positions: Arab, Israel, Palestinian: In its simplest terms peace is unlikely because it means different things to the parties involved. For Israel, surrounded by hostile and threatening neighbors peace means firstly, “security.” In terms of geography that means the indefinite stationing of troops along the Rift Valley border with Jordan, and control of the airspace above any future Palestinian state. Both conditions have been repeatedly rejected out of hand by the Palestinians. For the Palestinians the single issue they seem unwilling to compromise on is the right of return of all Palestinians to their abandoned homes within Israel. At Camp David 2000, for example, Yasser Arafat reportedly told President Clinton that, “he wouldnever relinquish the Palestinian right of return.” And Mahmoud Abbas recently confirmed that, “the Palestinians will never renounce the right of return to their former homes in Israel.” Since such a condition would mean not just a potential fifth column, but a demographic time bomb eventually resulting in a “one-state solution,” the demand is a non-starter for Israel.
But the more fundamental issue is that Israel is viewed by most Arab states as an alien interloper, an extension of European imperialism, a 20th century crusader outpost. Hamas and its patron Iran make no bones about this; but so do the Saudis and, occasionally, the Egyptian press also. And while Abbas’ Palestinian Authority maintains its posture as a “partner in peace,” maps in Palestinian school textbooks represent the territory between the river and the sea as “Palestine,” while representing Israelis in anti-Jewish terms. Not a training ground for mutual respect, acceptance of a future sovereign neighbor.
America’s Position: American efforts to bring the Palestinians and the Israelis together have been significant in number. Significant also is the regularity of their failure. All began with the optimistic and erroneous assumption that there is a rational core to the conflict which, if addressed with good will and determined mediation will result in peace and mutual trust. I suggest that the explanation for the failure of presidents since Eisenhower, despite their best efforts, is the direct result of overestimating the words of the adversaries without appreciating the evidence of their behavior. Abbas recently complained that the Arabs made a tragic mistake by rejecting the 1947 UN Partition Plan, yet he perpetuates the tragedy by almost identical demands, “Palestinian rights.” In 1947 the reference meant all the land for the Palestinians. In 2011the demand is the “right of return” of all “refugees” to their abandoned homes in Israel. Arafat had maintained this position since Oslo. Abbas repeated it recently. In practice the right of return would eventually result in a Palestinian one-state solution.
In terms of Arab thinking this is a reasonable and fair basis for “peace;” for Israel it represents national suicide. And so long as American foreign policy thinking persists in denying this fact it will continue to throw prestige, time and money at the wrong problem.
Obama and Netanyahu at White House, 20 May, 2011 (Reuters)
Obama and the “settlements precondition”: At their first meeting in the White House in May, 2009 Obama proposed that Netanyahu cease building in settlements as a way to encourage Abbas back to the negotiations he abandoned the year before in response to Israel’s brief war in Gaza (encouraged and assisted with intelligence by Abbas!). The Israeli government acceded to the presidential request in November, 2009 with a 10-month moratorium. In announcing the moratorium Netanyahu added wistfully, "We have been told by many of our friends that once Israel takes the first meaningful steps toward peace, the Palestinians and Arab states would respond."Nine months and one week later, under intense pressure from Washington Abbas agreed to face-to-face talks on condition that Israel continue the moratorium indefinitely. The talks ended on that demand. But the principle of the Americanprecondition remained in place until December, 2010.
Abbas reminds that it was not he, but Obama who created the precondition: "At first, President Obama stated in Cairo that Israel must stop all construction activities in the settlements. Could we demand less than that?" In fact Abbas had previously negotiated with seven Israeli prime minister without such a precondition.
“U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton that the Palestinians are creating a new precondition for talks to begin. Settlements, she says, have "always been an issue within the negotiations.… There's never been a precondition." In other words the secretary is saying that the administration accepts no responsibility in the matter. But according, to Elliott Abrams, a Middle East adviser to Bush, “One has to remember the Arabs had not ever insisted on such a precondition. This was something that was added by the administration and it proved to be disastrous.” How a disaster? Clearly the “precondition” failed to result in Abbas return to negotiations. But according to Palestinian officials, Abbas has lost faith in Mr. Obama… and after four face-to-face meetings and many regular telephone calls there is now little contact between them.”It also created tension between the administration and Israel. Tension with Israel, Abbas, almost entirely dependent on American good will and largesse ignoringObama: certainly the lesson was learned?
“On May 19, in a speech at the State Department on his Middle East policy, Obama called for peace negotiations on the basis of the 1967 borders with mutually agreed upon land swaps.” Saeb Erekat, chief negotiator for the Palestinians lost no time adopting this new Obama condition as another precondition for negotiations: "If Netanyahu agrees, we shall turn over a new leaf. If he doesn't, then there is no point talking about a peace process. We're saying it loud and clear."
In the meantime the newly independent Palestinian leader, proclaiming Obama’s “deadline” of September, 2011 for a Palestinian state, is taking his case directly to the United Nations. And Obama, having lost credibility and authority to persuade or coerce, can do little but try to persuade the Europeans not to vote in favor of Palestinian statehood.
A rational Middle East policy based on American interests would begin with the only reliable ally of the superpower in a region adrift, much the result of American missteps in Iraq (Bush), Egypt, Libya, Bahrain and throughout the region (Obama). Yet Israel has, over the past two years, been subjected to accusation and abuse by the White House resulting in an Israeli public highly mistrustful of Obama. And should the Palestinians achieve their UN recognition with little to show for the victory on the street; or should the Palestinian bid fail due to US-Israeli opposition, the conditions for yet another intifada may be ripe.
Thursday Oct 27, 2011
American predictability is based on anticipated irrationality... a danger to her increasingly skeptical regional allies.
If the alternative to a repressive regime allied with and supportive of the US War on Terror is an Islamist regime likely more repressive and supportive of the enemy, why the enthusiasm in Washington for regime change?
American foreign policy has an evangelical soul. Nor is it content merely to evangelize, to bring the “good news” to those deemed less fortunate; it can also be activist in imposing regime change. It is within this context that American actions in Iraq, Egypt, Bahrain, Yemen and Libya should be viewed.
The Arab Middle East typically divides between monarchies and “republics,” all to some degree authoritarian. Since there is no tradition of a “democratic” opposition the only replacement parties are either military or Islamist. In Egypt the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) was forced underground by Mubarak following the assassination of Anwar Sadat. And today the Brotherhood’s most visible offspring are al-Qaeda and Hamas. Earlier this week an MB-inspired Islamist party in Tunisia, described by the New York Times as “moderate” although boasting a militant history, won the preliminary election in Tunisia; another MB-inspired party is likely to form the next government in Libya.
Although the Bush administration floated several rationales (sidestepping “oil”) to justify its invasion of Iraq the theme that always resurfaced was its desire to free the Iraqi people from the tyrant and bestow upon them democratic governance. Similarly when Obama identified with Cairo’s Tahrir protesters and ordered Mubarak out the intention was to replace the Egyptian tyrant with a liberal democracy. And how many Libyans died the result of the US-led allied intervention to protect them from their tyrant? And to what end, the likely successor regime a branch of the same Muslim Brotherhood?
The day following its grisly murder of Qadafi the leader of the National Transitional Council (NTC) Mustafa Jalil announced, "As a Muslim country, we have adopted theIslamic Sharia as the main source of law.” Does Obama really believe that Libya’s likely Brotherhood or al-Quaida successor regime will provide a more humane and liberal replacement Qadafi, that it will provide liberty and justice for all, for women? How will an Islamist Libya better confront Islamist terrorism than the deposed Qadafi regime, partner in America’s war against terror?
If America’s intervention in Egypt was motivated by “power to the people,” are the Egyptians and the US happy with the continuation of the military regime for which Mubarak was, after all, only the public face; would the Egyptian protesters have been better off with that other likely successor, the MB and Sharia law? In 1979 the US ousted its long-time ally the Shah of Iran in support of the student protesters of Tehran. Within four months the student leaders were murdered or imprisoned or, if lucky, had fled Iran.
Reuters June 29, 2010: President Obama meets with King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia in the Oval Office.
If Bush chose to ignore regional leaders warning against deposing Sadam, Obama also chose to ignore the same regarding Mubarak: “It was no coincidence that the most outspoken proponents of Mr. Mubarak’s rule were Israel and Saudi Arabia who, with Egypt, formed the backbone of American dominance in the region.” During the crisis, US officials received “daily calls from Israel, Saudi Arabia and others who feared an Egypt without Mr. Mubarak would destabilize the entire region.” Whenever they got the chance, the Saudis told the United States to avoid undermining Mubarak.
Is it even possible that Obama’s advisors, from Biden and Clinton to his professional Middle East staff, failed to understand that Tahrir Square represented a disorganized and politically inchoate social protest, that the only organized and experienced alternative to the military were the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood? But the military, in power since Nasser overthrew the monarchy in 1952, was not likely to voluntarily leave the scene, as confirmed on 15 October, 2011: “Two members of the military councilthat took power after the ouster of former President Hosni Mubarak said for the first time in interviews this week that they planned to retain full control of the Egyptian government even after the election of a new Parliament begins in November. The legislature will remain in a subordinate role similar to Mr. Mubarak’s former Parliament, they said, with the military council appointing the prime minister and cabinet.”
Saudi Arabia: “The Obama administration and its support for democratic change in the Middle East has been on a collision course with Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and other traditional monarchies of the Persian Gulf. The crunch finally came this week with a sharp break over how to deal with protest in Bahrain.” The Saudis share a border with Yemen to the south, a causeway to Bahrain off their coast to the east. Any Iranian involvement in these countries would be a concern to the Saudis, and an issue they would look to the United States to back them on. But “the administration of President Barack Obama has dismissed any link between the Shi'ite revolt in Bahrain and Iran…U.S. officials have been arguing that Bahrain’s Sunni monarchy must make political compromises to give more power to the Shiite majority there… This American enthusiasm for change has been anathema to the conservative regimes of the Gulf, and on Monday they backed Bahrain’s ruling Khalifa family with military force, marching about 2,000 troops up the causeway that links Bahrain to Saudi Arabia.”
Is the principal of yet another Iran-inspired, Shiite-dominated “democracy” on the doorstep of the Saudis worth the threat to the production and transport of oil, to America’s home port to the Fifth Fleet tasked with protecting the waterway and the Straights of Hormuz through which the oil must transit? Where is American proportionality, a sense of American priorities, material national interests over ideology?
Implications for the region and for Israel: Relations between states, and particularly within alliances, are based on known and predictable interests. American foreign policy since 2002 has been anything but predictable. A rational assessment by the Bush administration should have concluded that, as Israel, the Saudis and virtually all Arab regimes warned, the principle regional threat lay not in Iraq, but Iran. Who could have predicted that the US would defy its own self-interest and replace Sadam with an Iran-friendly Shi’ite government in Iraq? Similarly in Egypt eight years later: what rationale assessment of American regional interests could justify Obama deposing Mubarak, the lynchpin of American influence in the Arab world?
Was it rational policy that informed Obama’s decision to go nose-to-nose with the Saudis over Iranian interference in Bahrain, thereby alienating even further the region’s largest and most influential oil producer; that the president would lead an allied war against Qadafi, another supporter of US policy regarding al-Qaeda? American policy may, by now, be predictable, but that predictability is based on anticipated irrationality. America has become a danger to her increasingly more skeptical regional allies.
A decade of confused US policy has greatly emboldened Iran in its challenge to America and its regional allies. Minus a hesitant United States the only other state capable of confronting Iran is Israel. And while American abrogation of responsibility for the security of the region may, in the end, force Israel to act in its own interest, whatever the military outcome of the conflict Israel would face new existential challenges. Regardless whether the decision to attack originates in Washington or Jerusalem Iran would retaliate against US bases forcing an American response. And blame for “forcing” the US into the war would likely have very significant consequences for the so-called “special relationship.”
Friday Oct 21, 2011
Why have two successive administrations avoided confronting multiple Iranian provocations against American interests in the Middle East? Why has the US refused to deal directly with Iranian funded and sometimes officered attacks on American forces in Iraq and Afghanistan, against Iran-supported terrorism, its nuclear weapons program. Surely America’s leaders recognize that even the appearance of weakness emboldens Iran and erodes Arab confidence in America’s ability and resolve to stand behind its defense commitments, to defend its regional interests and allies?
Last week I discussed the Bush administration’s decision to invade Iraq, its growing “alliance” with Ahmadinejad to limit American casualties by limiting the scope of the war. This week I turn to Obama and how the Bush policy of dependence and appeasement continues to evolve under the new administration.
Whoever ordered the 2007 National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Iran its assurances “with confidence” that had Iran abandoned its nuclear weapons program in 2003 allowed Bush to abandon his cosmetic threats against Iran and “surge” his way into an “honorable” exit and allow his successor to deal with the conseq1uences of his 2011 withdrawal date. In his favor Obama inherited the Iran/Iraq/Afghanistan quagmire from Bush. But his more reasoned and less confrontational approach backed by sanctions would prove as ineffective as his predecessors bluster in dissuading Ahmadinejad from his hegemonic ambitions.
The problem with sanctions is that there is much evidence indicating they are usually ineffective. Certainly this was true for the North Korea nuclear program. And Iran is both more resourceful and has more wealth and natural resources than her far eastern predecessor. Obama’s failure was not in having tried the more reasoned approach but in not appreciating its failure. Iran and the Arabs and perhaps all other countries expected the president to eventually stop putting off his deadlines and act as promised. With each successive deadline deferred Ahmadinejad’s gravitas grew on the Arab street, and Arab leaders dependent on America’s promise of a defense shield, grew increasingly anxious.
U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates at the White House meeting planning withdrawal of US forces from Iraq, 22 January, 2009. The secretary and his Joint Chiefs chairman had long opposed a military strike against Iran.. Reuters
at least $757.8 billion. But this figure does not begin to cover interest accumulating and owed on the borrowed funds, and money spent and anticipated for the care of our wounded, etc. Agreeing with an MIT study, The Washington Post recently put the real cost the war at around $4 trillion, and described the impact on the US economy:
“This was the first time in American history that the government cut taxes as it went to war. The result: a war completely funded by borrowing. U.S. debt soared… As a result of two costly wars funded by debt, our fiscal house was in dismal shape even before the financial crisis -- and those fiscal woes compounded the downturn… The global financial crisis was due, at least in part, to the war.”
And what has the United States achieved by “saving” the Iraqi people from their oppressive Baathist regime, by turning over the reigns of power to the formerly downtrodden Shiite masses? After eight years and four thousand America lives, four trillion dollars already spent or in the pipeline America transformed Iraq from firewall against, to vassal state of America’s principle regional enemy, Iran. And under Iranian influence that American-installed Shiite-ruled Iraqi government is showing their hapless benefactor to the exit.
In 2008 Bush signed an agreement with the Iraqi government to withdraw all troops by 2011. But to withdraw means Iraq is easy prey for an Iranian takeover, throwing open the entire region to the Iranian threat.
JCS chairman Mike Mullen delivers a “deadline” for Iraq to permit a residual American force after withdrawal. Reuters
“An Obama administration proposal to keep a few thousand American troops here after the end of the year to train the Iraqi military is being scaled back, as the administration has concluded that the Iraqi Parliament would not give the troops legal protection.”
And if, as likely, the proposal fails the Times article continues, “they could still return next year [sic] to negotiations that would allow the return of some American personnel.” That is, after Iran is even more entrenched in the running of the “democratic” Republic of Iraq!
Perhaps more than anything else, the Bush-Obama policy of appeasement towards Iran best represents America’s failure at strategic foresight, its declining position in the world, its voluntary or not withdrawal into isolationism.